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Nature Guide






















partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)





















sleeping plant

prairie partridge pea

prairie senna

large-flowered sensitive-pea

dwarf cassia

partridge pea senna

locust weed

golden cassia



Cassia chamaecrista L.

Cassia fasiculata Michx.


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for partridge pea is Chamaecrista fasciculata (Michx.) Greene.


NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.




Habit: This occasionally branching annual legume is ½-2' (sometimes up to 3 ') tall. Shorter plants are erect, while taller plants are inclined to sprawl. The slender hairless stems are initially light green, but become reddish brown.


Leaves: Partridge pea has alternate compound leaves that are medium to dark green. They have petioles with nectaries that attract insects. Each compound leaf usually consist of 10 to 16, up to 20 leaflets. The leaflets are sensitive to touch. A hairless and oblong leaflet is about 2/3" long and 1/3" across. It is


Flowers: Partridge pea has yellow flowers that appear along the major stems near the axils of the leaves. They are about 1" across, and have an open, irregular shape. Each flower has 5 rounded petals that vary in relative size, and there are about 10 reddish stamens. There is no floral scent.


Fruits/Seeds: During the fall, pods develop that are initially hairy green, but later become hairless and dark brown. The straight, narrow pods are about 1½ to 2½" long, ¾" across, and rather flat. The pods split along 2 sutures as it dries; the pod sides spiral to expel the seeds some distance from the parent plant. The seeds are dark brown, rather flat, and slightly pitted.


Roots: The root system consists of a central taproot and smaller auxillary roots.


REGENERATION PROCESS: Partridge pea propogates itself by reseeding.


HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include mesic to dry black soil prairies, sand prairies, savannas, limestone glades, abandoned fields, open areas along railroads and roadsides, and in most disturbed areas. Sometimes partridge pea is deliberately planted to stabilize banks around ditches and other areas. Often it will "escape" into surrounding areas, particularly disturbed areas.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Partridge pea prefers full sun and average to dry conditions and, in dry, open landscapes, can grow into entensive colonies.  The soil can contain sand, loam, gravel, or clay, to which this plant will add nitrogen. This plant grows on a wide range of soils that are slightly acid to moderately alkaline.  However, it grows best on moderately lime, well drained soils. It favors poor soil because of reduced competition from other plants.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period is quite long, from mid-summer to fall.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Partridge pea is naturally found from Florida to the New England states (where it does not naturally occur), and extends west through the Ohio Valley, upper Mid-West and Plains states, the all of the Gulf Coast states as far west as Texas (and states north) and New Mexico.




IMPORTANCE AND USES: Long-tongued bees are responsible for pollination of the flowers, which includes such visitors as honeybees, bumblebees, long-horned bees (Melissodes spp.), and leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.). They are attracted to the food pollen of the purple anthers, and are then dusted by the reproductive pollen of the yellow anthers. Two species of bees, Anthophora walshii and Svastra atripes atripes, are oligoleges of partridge pea. Sometimes leaf-cutting bees cut off portions of the petals for their brood chambers. The flowers are usually cross-pollinated by insects, but sometimes they are self-pollinating. The petiolar nectaries attract a completely different assortment of insects, which includes such visitors as Halictid bees, wasps, flies, and ants. Unusual visitors to the nectaries are velvet ants (Mutillidae), which are hairy wingless wasps (in the case of the females). The caterpillars of several sulfur butterflies feed on the foliage of this plant, including Eurema lisa (little sulfur), Eurema nicippe (sleepy orange), and Phoebis sennae cubule. Other insects that feed on partridge pea include Cerotoma trifurcata (bean leaf beetle) and Sennius cruentatus (partridge pea seed beetle). The seeds are an important food source for the bobwhite quail and greater prairie chicken. Because the foliage is strongly cathartic, it is usually avoided by grazing animals. However, white-tailed deer occasionally browse on the foliage in limited amounts.


Although partridge pea foliage is nutritious, it can be poisonous and should be considered potentially dangerous to cattle. Partridge pea leaves and seeds contain a cathartic substance.  This substance is effective either in fresh plant material or in dry hay.  Domestic livestock will eat partridge pea leaves.  However, if large quantities are consumed, the animal may be stressed and die.


Partridge pea often grows in dense stands, producing litter and plant stalks that furnish cover for upland game birds, small mammals, small non-game birds, and waterfowl.


Partridge pea is considered an important honey plant, often occurring where few other honey plants are found.  Nectar is not available in the flowers of showy partridge pea but is produced by small orange glands at the base of each leaf.  Ants often seek the nectar and are frequent visitors. The common sulfur butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves, and the larvae use the leaves as a food source.

The flowers of this plant can be used to beautify areas where wildflowers are planted.  Partridge pea is commonly grown as an ornamental; its bright yellow flowers make it a popular choice for use in native gardens.


Cherokee people used partridge pea as a root medicine to keep ball players from tiring. They also used it as a stimulant compound infusion for fainting spells.  The Seminole people used partridge pea as an antiemetic used for nausea.  The Seminoles also used partridge pea as a bed for ripening persimmons.



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